Skip to main content
The Web      Powered by
powered by Yahoo!
Iraq Banner

Tenet defends prewar judgment on Iraq

CIA chief denies political pressure affected intelligence

CIA Director George Tenet said Thursday the National Intelligence Estimate never characterized Saddam's government as an
CIA Director George Tenet said Thursday the National Intelligence Estimate never characterized Saddam's government as an "imminent threat."

Story Tools

more video VIDEO
George Tenet summarizes CIA's prewar intelligence on Iraq.
premium content

CNN's Wolf Blitzer talks to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts about CIA Director George Tenet's speech.
premium content

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's comments on prewar intelligence.
premium content
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Arms Control
Right or wrong on WMD?
"... when the facts of Iraq are all in, we will neither be completely right nor completely wrong."

Influence of politics:
"No one told us what to say or how to say it."

Ongoing process:

Search for WMD continues. "We are nowhere near 85 percent finished."

Imminent threat:
CIA analysts "never said there was an imminent threat."

Intelligence successes:
Human intelligence helped capture masterminds of the 9/11 attacks, the attack on the USS Cole and the Bali nightclub bombing. 

Tenet defends Iraq WMD intelligence

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- CIA Director George Tenet on Thursday defended the prewar U.S. intelligence estimate of Iraq's weapons capabilities and rejected suggestions that political pressure influenced the agency's assessment.

"No one told us what to say or how to say it," Tenet said in a speech at his alma mater, Georgetown University. "We will always call it as we see it."

Tenet said the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate -- parts of which were published during the congressional debate over authorizing the use of military force against Iraq -- never characterized Saddam Hussein's government as an "imminent threat."

Leading up to the war, Bush and his top aides stressed the urgency of stopping Saddam.

In a speech to the United Nations in September, Bush called Saddam's regime "a grave and gathering danger." The next day, he said Saddam was "a threat that we must deal with as quickly as possible." And in an Ohio speech October 7, 2002, Bush said "the danger is already significant and it only grows worse with time."

Tenet said Baghdad's use of chemical weapons in the 1980s, its efforts to resist U.N. weapons inspectors in the 1990s and information from satellites, intercepted communications and defectors indicated Saddam planned to reactivate those programs.

"[The CIA] painted an objective assessment for our policy-makers of a brutal dictator who was continuing his efforts to deceive and build programs that might constantly surprise us and threaten our interests," he said. (Transcript)

Tenet said the United States needs more time to account for Iraq's suspected weapons programs.

When the facts are in, he said, the agency "will never be completely right or completely wrong."

"Unfortunately, you rarely hear a patient, careful or thoughtful discussion of intelligence these days," Tenet said. "But these times demand it because the alternative -- politicized, haphazard evaluation without the benefit of time and facts -- may well result in an intelligence community that is damaged and a country that is more at risk."

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, called for Tenet's resignation after Thursday's remarks.

"In January 2003, he allowed President Bush to include the fraudulent claim about yellowcake uranium from Niger in the State of the Union address," Markey said in a written statement. "In February 2003, he sat behind Colin Powell as he systematically presented intelligence on Iraqi WMD that was alarmist and untrue. Later in February 2003, he did not clarify the CIA's intelligence position when the on-the-ground U.N. weapons inspectors reported their negative findings."

Countering criticism

The speech allowed Tenet to respond to criticism from David Kay, the former U.S. top weapons inspector in Iraq, who said intelligence given to President Bush before the war on Iraq's weapons programs was wrong.

Kay told a Senate committee last week that he believes Iraq was unlikely to have significant stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. Bush administration officials had cited those as a key reason leading up to the invasion last year. (Full story)

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, said Thursday his committee's review has found no evidence that political pressure shaped U.S. intelligence.

He compared the intelligence gathered by the United Nations, United States and other countries as "a train that just kept moving."

"While there may have been other bits of information or intelligence that would say, 'Whoa, wait a minute, we need to stop the train,' it never really stopped," Roberts said. "Virtually every intelligence agency, including the U.N., came up with the same assumption, that there would be stockpiles of WMD" in Iraq.

More than 500 U.S. troops have been killed in the Iraq war, but no banned weapons have been found.

Tenet said intelligence analysts disagreed on several aspects of Iraq's weapons programs, "and those debates were spelled out in the estimate."

"It is important to underline the word estimate because not everything we analyze can be known to a standard of absolute proof," he said.

Tenet's address included a strong defense of the CIA's human intelligence efforts, saying information from American and allied spies had led to the capture of three key al Qaeda figures -- including suspected 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed -- and the exposure of the network spreading Pakistani nuclear weapons technology to other countries.

Agency's role cited in disarming Libya

Tenet also rejected suggestions that the extent of weapons programs in North Korea, Iran and Libya caught Washington by surprise.

Libya agreed in December to give up its efforts to develop a nuclear bomb.

"Only through intelligence did we know when Libya started its first nuclear weapons program and then put it on the back burner for years," he said. "Only through intelligence did we know when the nuclear program took off again. We knew because we had penetrated Libya's foreign supplier network."

Tenet said Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan's transfer of nuclear technology "was shaving years" off the time some countries needed to develop nuclear weapons.

"His network is now answering to the world for years of nuclear profiteering," Tenet said.

Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, has admitted transferring nuclear weapons technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf pardoned him Thursday, saying he remained a national hero despite his admission.

Tenet's speech comes a day after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told senators he isn't ready to conclude that Iraq no longer had weapons of mass destruction before the U.S. invasion.

Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee that U.S. weapons inspectors need more time to reach final conclusions about whether chemical and biological weapons existed. (Full story)

Bush announced Monday that he would appoint a presidential commission to review U.S. intelligence on the proliferation of WMD in Iraq. (Full story)

"Knowing what I knew then and knowing what I know today, America did the right thing in Iraq," Bush said Thursday in Charleston, South Carolina.

Intelligence Committee members began receiving copies Thursday afternoon of the panel's draft report on intelligence regarding Iraq

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said the committee failed to examine whether the Bush administration willfully used bad intelligence to make the case for war.

"This is the cauldron boiling beneath the surface ... about which the Senate Intelligence Committee is prohibited from looking at," she said.

Roberts appealed to Democrats to resist what he called the "blast furnace" of election-year politics and avoid prejudging the report.

But Feinstein, who voted to back the use of military force to disarm Iraq, said Democratic senators have been shut out of the investigation.

She said the information presented to Congress before the war "created an impression that there was an imminent threat."

"I don't think there would have been 77 votes in the United States Senate to authorize the use of force had these statements not been made," she said.

Story Tools
Subscribe to Time for $1.99 cover
Top Stories
Father guilty of killing 9 of his children
Top Stories
CNN/Money: Security alert issued for 40 million credit cards

International Edition
CNN TV CNN International Headline News Transcripts Advertise With Us About Us
   The Web     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.
Add RSS headlines.